In 2009, with Democrats holding the House, Senate and presidency, the statehood bill was not introduced in either chamber of Congress — in hindsight, a costly moral and political failing. The missed opportunity of 2009 provides us with a clear lesson learned and has inspired how statehood activists have worked over the past few years to build a coalition of congressional members on record supporting the bill.
The D.C. statehood movement has made significant progress, but there is a long way to go. In the next two years, we must work with and pressure the House to pass the statehood bill. In the Senate, we need to work with Democrats and Republicans to build support for the cause. This will take significant organizing and advocacy work, and that requires funding. District leaders must budget more than $200,000 annually toward nonprofit groups working for statehood. While new funding is going toward media campaigns, it must work in partnership with grass-roots education and organizing work. If our budget is a reflection of our values and priorities, D.C. leaders must prioritize and invest in the local and national organizing work necessary to achieve D.C. statehood.
For the D.C. statehood bill to become law, the people of the District must make it a national issue. To do that, we need to have organizers and educators in the states talking with groups such as the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, unions and houses of worship to make this cause personal to people living in the 50 states. We need to turn our families and friends in the 50 states into our allies and advocates so that they can call their members of Congress and tell them to support D.C. statehood. To put educators and organizers in up to 20 states and to have a constant presence on the Hill, the District should commit $5 million a year for five years to the statehood cause.
Our leaders must plan for and embrace a responsibility that they have thus far chosen to ignore: The District does not pay for or control our local court or prison system. With statehood, the new state would bear that responsibility. The fiscal 2020 budget is a perfect place for the mayor and council to commit funds to developing a transition plan for taking control of our courts and prisons. We must be prepared to bear the full responsibility of being a state.
The 116th Congress presents a monumental opportunity for the D.C. statehood movement. As we push for that short-term landmark of success we must concurrently work toward our long-term goal. We must stay focused on building support around the nation to make the District the 51st state come 2021 or 2023.
The statehood cause is moral and just. If we want to succeed, we must invest in the cause, become better organized and raise our unified voices louder than ever before if we ever expect our demand for equality to receive the approval of the House, Senate and president. It will happen only if the citizens of the District, our elected leaders and our allies around the country ante up and kick in, starting now.